On a stage at Junction City Middle School in 2006, a sixth-grade student played her violin in front of a live audience — it was her first introduction to orchestra. Now, 14 years later Daijana Wallace is sharing her music to a much broader audience.
Wallace has earned several accolades since she left Junction City and embarked on her music education and career, first at Wichita State University and now at the University of Michigan. Most recently the ensemble Loadbang contacted her to commission an original score for them.
“They're based out of Boston and New York City,” said the celloist and composer. “They’re considered one of the bigger names and bigger ensembles. They got in touch with me asking me to work on a piece for them. I'm excited to be doing that.”
She credits the power of social media and networking for the commission. She and Loadbang’s trombonist follow each other on social media and one day, out of the blue, he contacted her and asked if he could preview the score of a piece she had shared.
“Then a couple of weeks later, their trumpet player got in touch with me.” She said. “He was like, ‘Hey, we love this and we would love to work with you.’ Some days it doesn't feel real to have such an opportunity like this.”
She was also recently on a New Music Listening Club podcast. She said didn’t realize how big of a deal that was until after she saw the reactions of her friends when she shared it on her Facebook page.
With all her success — having a world-class ensemble reach out to commission her, performing in Italy and having her work make it to an international stage, Wallace said her greatest achievement to date is graduating from Wichita State University with two bachelor's degrees, one in music composition and one cello performance.
“I worked really hard for those two pieces of paper,” she said. “I'm so grateful for all the mentorship and the opportunities that I had gathered along the way.”
But it all started at Junction City Middle School when she joined the Orchestra Program.
“I was playing violin,” she said. “I decided that I wasn't very good at it. So, I switched to cello and I didn't tell my mom — I think she might still be a little bit upset about that today, but that's okay.”
If her mother, Janelle Cody of Junction City, is still a little upset, she doesn’t let on. Wallace said if it wasn’t for her support and guidance she wouldn’t be where she is today.
“She was always supporting me,” Wallace said. “She pushed me a lot. She always wanted me to be active in an instrument. I thank her for just making sure that I committed to something.”
When she made the switch to cello, she felt a draw to the instrument. Even at a young age, she knew she had a connection to the music. She credits former Junction City orchestra teachers Ethan Loewen and David Bernard Stevens for helping mold and strengthening that connection.
“The way that they cared about music, the way that they cared about making music, and the way they encouraged me and pushed me to continue … it really made a difference,” she said. “I appreciate them so much. They cared so much about music making and they're so passionate and could convey that to me and the rest of the class.”
It wasn’t until her senior year in high school that becoming a composer crossed her mind.
“It was right before I graduated in 2013 — my dad had just died,” she said. “I was just at a point where I was just trying to get through the rest of the semester, from spring break, until the end until graduation when my dad died. I know it sounds so cliche, but it's like, you just can't stop hearing the music.”
She kept hearing a melody in her head and wrote it down. That melody was the seed. When she went to community college the seed started growing. The pull to created music was getting stronger and stronger. She abandoned the idea of computer science or music education, both of which she had been contemplating.
By the time she got to WSU she was ready to explore composition lessons. After WSU she enrolled in Michigan State University to continue studying composition and work toward her goals.
“My goals are to just learn how to write better, and learn how to become a better musician,” she said. “My ultimate goal really is just to be able to make music and travel. I still want to live in Kansas. It’s home, I love it there.